Fussing w/ the Bit -- Help
Lately I've been given the opportunity to start riding and working with an Arabian mare. She's great fun, but I'm a little at odds about what to do about a particular difficulty.
You see, lately this little mare has been fussing with the bit quite a lot. She'll chew on it (not in the soft relaxed way), shake her head, and pull against my hands. She seems to do it more when I'm asking her to go a little slower and think about something like bend, moving her haunches or shoulders independently, etc. These are things she needs work on and doesn't understand fully yet, but she seems to get frustrated and start fussing with the bit when I'm asking her to think about some of these things. I ride with a light hand, though when she pulls on me I do not yeild.
I'm not sure how lenient I should be. It's hard for me to tell if she's just giving me attitude or if she's really starting to get upset or overwhelmed. I could "kick her up" or tap her with the whip when she's pulling on me and insist that she work through it and do what I'm asking. Or, I can go back to easier work. Today, I asked her to trot out on a longer rein when she was starting to get particularly fussy. She'd keep fighting for a little while, but after a lap or two would settle out once she realized I wasn't asking her to do anything more than trot out without running away. Once she stopped fussing, I resumed the "harder" work until she became fussy again (which didn't take long at all).
I've been using an eggbutt french link snaffle, though have also used a single joint D-ring snaffle and encountered the same challenges. I've fiddled with the adjustment in terms of how high or low the bit sits in her mouth. I don't know how possible it is that she might have dental issues, as she does not belong to me and I don't know any of her history.
My first guess would be that she may be in need of a float, and that the bit is causing her discomfort when used a certain way. Is there any way for you to figure it out? Not like you could convince her owners to get a vet out for her teeth if they feel it unnecessary though. =\
I would bump her up and push her forward when she gets fussy. I wouldn't yield a whole lot. If you are working on bending on a circle, stay on the circle, push her forward, and ask for a better bend when she calms down.
You can also fiddle with your half-halt [inside leg, outside rein, seat] and remind her that she is, in fact, working.
The only other suggestion I can make is working on lots of circles and serpentines. Keep her really busy on the simple things. I do know with my mare when she gets fussy, all of these things work with her. I just mix it up to keep her attention. Good luck!
I'd check the teeth. It's hard to advice anything since she's not your horse. Could you ask the owner about it may be?
I would also suggest that the owner have her teeth looked at. A horse doesn't have to be older to have serious dental issues. I recently became acquainted with a guy that is an equine dentist and he keeps horse skulls from various aged horses for demonstration purposes. He has one skull from a 4 year old filly that had the most grotesque dental conformation I've ever seen on a living creature (think Steve Buscemi times 10 in horse form). It's a miracle the horse was even able to eat, they were so bad.
Another possibility is not dental issues but anxiety about working small and tight and bending. She may just be very worried aobut it and the more aids you put on her, the more she tenses up. Check that you are staying relaxed in your seat, not overdueing leg aids and give releases sooner for less work. IF she knows that a release is imminant, maybe she will be more generous in her tries.
I know you to be a sensitive and careful rider, so I hesitate to make the above suggestion. I only say that it could be a more mental issue, not a dental issue.
(I am a poet and didn't know it!)
Is there any way to tell if they're having dental issues without dragging the vet/equine dentist out first? It will be hard to convince the owner to have someone come out on a 'maybe'. The owner is the barn owner, and from what I've been told this Arabian now belongs to her due to her previous owner leaving her/not paying board. The owner's current goal is not to lose any more money than she already has... she's been taking care of basic necessities, but nothing has been done with the mare for several months. I'm the only one who has taken a serious interest in her recently. I'll likely be told just to choose another horse to ride and let her continue her pasture pony life if she's not good for riding.
Tinyliny, thanks for the suggestion... that's part of what I've been suspecting, which is why I am hesitant to get too strict with her. I try to intersperse the ride with "easy" things and a few long rein stretches to reduce any anxiety, and I have been doing what I can to minimize my aids to their most basic and simple form.
Oh, one other thing that came to my mind, do you know how she was ridden previously? English or western and what kind of bit? Only reason I ask is that maybe she is not used to any kind of contact at all and to pick some up (even light) makes her tense and nervous. How quickly does she relax when you drop contact and let her go on a loose rein for a while?
I have no idea how she was ridden previously or even how much... no history on this girl, really. She did seem to "western jog" at first when asked to trot, but that could be laziness or feeling unbalanced after a while off of work. The bridle I was told to use with her is an english bridle however.
She seems to settle down after about a lap or two around the arena when I give her a longer rein... though if I throw the rein away entirely she will become racey at the trot rather than to keep a steady more relaxed pace. She does seem to avoid contact on occasion, almost dropping behind the bit sometimes.
I would nearly bet that she's not been prepared to accept contact then. The racey trot on loose reins may not be a symptom of no contact so much as a symptom of no training.
My WB gelding is horrendously fussy in the mouth. His teeth are fine, he's gone through multiple bits with previous owners and nothing worked. He is in general, a VERY nervous, tense type, and the mouthyness is always enhanced when I'm demanding more of him, it goes hand in hand with tension through the body and loss of engagement in the hind quarters.
I put him in a mullen mouth a month or so ago, and it improved him significantly. Also, working solidly on keeping the hind legs engaged, when I got tension I put him in leg yield or shoulder in down the wall until he settles, then ride forward again. This has helped his mouthyness hugely and I don't have too much of a problem with it anymore
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